Back on horizontal ground for the first time in more than two weeks, rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson on Thursday recalled the enhanced senses and intense camaraderie that fueled their historic ascent of the sheer-faced Dawn Wall of Yosemite National Park's El Capitan.
The 3,000-foot free climb, once considered impossible, was the culmination of six years of planning, and captivated the public, making them sudden celebrities. The climbing duo told NBC News they hope their feat will inspire others, even those who don't care to scale mountains.
"I hope they take the time to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will, and use this project as an example of what you can achieve and what you can experience when you dream big and you seek help in a partner to complete something and not give up," Jorgeson, 30, said in a joint interview with Caldwell, his 36-year-old mentor.
The climbers recalled many moments of elation, fear, frustration, and companionship as they made their way up the wall with just their feet and cracked, bloodied fingers to propel them. They slept in sleeping bags suspended from the face, and had a crew haul gear, including film equipment and electronics to post updates on social media. There were long periods of rest between pitches, leaving them time to enjoy the view and savor meals.
"It puts you in this heightened state of everything," Caldwell said, his voice hoarse from a cold and shouting. "The food tastes better, the jokes are more funny. You bond in this more incredible way up on the wall then you ever do on the ground."
The most trying element was the dreaded Pitch 15, which Jorgeson, who'd never before climbed El Capitan, struggled for seven days to complete. Above him, Caldwell, who'd grown up watching his father climb El Capitan and had completed dozens of varied ascents of the mountain, refused to consider finishing alone. He'd tried that himself years earlier and failed. "I don’t think I let myself go there," Caldwell said. "I really wanted to do it with Kevin. I know at one point he was looking pretty down and I just told him that, 'I’m in this for the long haul with you.'"
Jorgeson added: "I'll forever be grateful for that support."
Caldwell said the most powerful moment for him came just before they crossed over the top. That's when it hit him that their journey was over. "That time on the wall, we were in that moment together," he said. "Our party on the wall. That was really special, so it was kind of sad to see that end." In a press conference Thursday, Caldwell said he told Jorgeson he was "super proud of him, and that we would remember this moment for the rest of our lives." Now that it's over, the partners are headed in separate directions. Jorgeson said he'll soon take off for the Fontainebleau section of France to scale boulders. Caldwell, who travels with his wife and baby son, is going to Patagonia "to find big mountains."
—Hallie Jackson and Jon Schuppe